Instrument flight. No visual horizon. Other instrument flight hazards;'rime' ice, 'clear' ice. Steps that led from VFR to IFR
Buffalo tragedy in 21st Century Showed Disregard of All Earlier Progress
Copyright Franklyn E. Dailey Jr. 2012 Contact Author
Most of the pages in the instrument flying book, pictured upper left, are devoted to actual experiences from all sectors of aviation. I bring readers into the cockpit. I hope they will enjoy adventure and the learning experience. This is not a "how to" book. Where technology is pivotal, I try to keep it simple. For an instrument flight, the aircraft must be flyable, the pilot must be fully engaged in the flight process and he or she must have the tools to surmount the challenges encountered. A discussion that helps the reader understand what a pilot means by "instrument flight" can be found on the page flytoc.htm or just scroll down the titles in the left hand column to "Context: Instrument Flight, vs Flight." The bulleted headings (and their links) in the left hand column provide a rough outline and constitute a draft of the printed book The remaining non-bulleted headings contain material added to the subject after publication of the book.. For errata and add-ons to the book, go down the left hand column to Add-ons to Flying Book.
/s/ Franklyn E. Dailey Jr. Captain USNR (Ret)
Acknowledgments: The book, "Adventures of a Yellowbird" by Robert Mudge. "Yellowbird" refers to the paint job Northeast Airlines elected to put on its aircraft when that airline won the right to fly from New England to Florida in 1956. Originally at its founding, Boston and Maine Airways, the airline became Northeast Airlines. (And was eventually acquired by Delta.) Mudge is the author/pilot and he is 90+ and living in Massachusetts. I have received permission from Bob Mudge to reproduce Chapter XIII of his book: Thirty pages of one of the most thrilling chapters in all of aviation history can be found at yellow.htm or scroll down the list of titles in the left hand column to "Moments of Terror."
Also, Robert Mitchell, retired Delta pilot, provided helpful information on blind landings in the 767-777 Boeing aircraft, developed after this author had retired from flying. This development comes late in the book and late in the "Century" referred to in its title.
The "retrospective" word in the title of this book is an indication that U.S. aviation history has been covered in review form. It is revealed that two principal threads in flying, each beginning within a few years of the other, came together to set the stage for the aviation industry that we know today. A flyable aircraft, reliably powered, one that can be maintained in its air environment aloft, is a prerequisite for flying that aircraft successfully in instrument conditions. I will leave it to readers of the book to discover events leading to that juncture, and how the essential instrument flight challenge was overcome. The air environment, clouds, turbulence, temperature, and how these can interact, create challenges to control of an aircraft once the aircraft gets successfully aloft.
Pictured is a DC-3 flown by Northeast Airlines, based in Boston. This aircraft met all the requirements for successful flight under instrument conditions. Its anti-icing feature were flexible 'boots' on the leading edge of the control surfaces, in this view best seen as the thin black line on the front of the vertical stabilizer (tail).
(2009 Note: At the end of this page, I will select from pages 204 et seq. of my book pictured at the top of the left hand column above, which relate to moisture in the air that leads to the hazards of rime ice and clear ice. These pages are being recalled come from my 2004 book, because of the tragedy of the Continental Airlines feeder airline plane crash near Buffalo, New York, in February 2009, with the loss of all aboard, and the death of one person in the home it struck on the ground. Subsequent to the Buffalo crash came a crash in the Netherlands, with several fatalities; this accident has one parallel with the Buffalo accident in that the feature 'auto-land' was being used with pilot intervention coming much too late. In June 2009, an Air France aircraft was lost in the Atlantic not long after leaving Brazil for Paris. A lesser known (to many) ice hazard on the pitot-tube may have begun the fatal chain of events. 2009 was a very bad fatalities year for commercial aviation.)
Instrument flight is flying with no earth horizon as a reference. Why is that significant? Without the ability to control the flight of an aircraft, from takeoff to landing, despite clouds, haze, smoke, snow, rain and freezing rain, and other obscurations to earth and particularly earth's horizon reference, the progress of aviation, strong in its first three decades, would have been completely stunted. In 1929, the newly formed airlines departed in the morning, when the weather permitted. They would land in the afternoon and put passengers on a train for the night. The competition was rail.
The sight of the Conductor leaning out of a passenger rail car, Hamilton watch in one hand and lantern in the other, signaling the Engineer to leave the station, has been repeated millions of times, with almost never a delay for the weather. Air travel needed a way to "leave on time." Some solution to clouds and rain and snow and fog and ice had to be found.
The Wright brothers built and flew the first successful powered airplane in December 1903. In all essential aspects, the Wrights had it right. They needed lift from the wings. To obtain lift they needed a motor to create forward thrust. Just as important, they needed flight control and they got it from flight control surfaces. As pilots, the Wrights exercised intelligent flight control by visual observation of the earth beneath them. Their elevator and their rudder were their flight control surfaces. Warping the wings provided a vital third control.
Glenn Curtiss came along just a few years after the Wright brothers. The Wrights had developed mechanical expertise in the bicycle business. Curtiss had been building motorcycle engines. Curtiss was able to add power to the airplane engine. Curtiss and the Wrights became competitors.
Early flight control surfaces are visible on Glenn Curtiss' "June Bug" pictured in the book. Upfront is the elevator and behind the pilot was the rudder. Curtiss was later persuaded to put the elevator back with the rudder.
The Wright brothers knew they needed a flight control to counteract the tendency of their airframe to roll to one side or the other. This was accomplished by whichever brother was flying the plane, who as pilot was lying prone on a bottom wing which could flex. Aided by moving his own weight, the pilot could literally warp the lower wing to help control the tendency of the craft to roll from side to side. They had designed their wing to achieve a crude form of aileron control.
Just a few short years after the Wrights' first flight in 1903, Glenn Curtiss improved on wing warping by providing the triangular sections at the end of the wing of his "June Bug," the early "aileron." After the Wright's "elevator" and "rudder," this "aileron" became the third discrete flight control surface. Curtiss moved the aileron by leaning his shoulders left or right to move an actuating cord that stretched beside him in his pilot seat.
The French completed the basic flight controls by giving the pilot foot pedals to control the rudder, and a "stick" to control elevator and aileron. In the meantime, Curtiss had added not just power but also reliability to the engine.
Most important for this flying story, aircraft now had three flight control surfaces and the means to move them. In clear weather, pilots used their visual sight reference to move the flight controls for safely conducted flight.
The 'retrospective' of the book's subtitle then moves to World War I, then to flying the mail using light beacons, and ultimately the third decade of the 20th century, particularly the years 1927-1931. Lindbergh flew the Atlantic to Paris in 1927. He kept awake for 33 hours. Just as important, his radial air-cooled engine kept humming for those 33 hours. Some speculated that the flight was a fluke. All accorded it as a hugely popular event.
In early sections of the book, the reader gets a brief glimpse of the author's own introductions to aircraft, up close. A Curtiss Jenny story is followed by a Stinson Detroiter experience.
The author's 1929 ride in a Stinson Detroiter piloted by Russell Holderman leads to a follow-on appreciation for that pilot's early and very successful corporate aviation experience.
The Lindbergh feat certainly gave a boost to the efforts of a group of aviation enthusiasts, some daring, some cautious, some who blended daring and caution in the right mixture. Month by month in the years 1929-1931, pilots shattered endurance records, one week in the air, two weeks in the air, and more. Other pilots, men and women, month by month, set new point to point speed records.
Consider the National Air Races at Cleveland in 1931. Lowell Bayles of Springfield beat out Jimmy Doolittle for the coveted Thompson Trophy. Bayles was flying the GeeBee, designed and built by the Granville brothers.
St. Louis, Los Angeles and Texas provide stories of early success. Tokyo and Wenatchee, Washington share a story of achievement. Lindbergh makes another important and revealing flight, this time with his wife, Anne. The years 1929-31 provided a plethora of record-making and record-breaking flight events.
For the progress of aviation, the speed and endurance feats were much more important than winning a race or setting a record. Designers and pilots were establishing the aircraft as a reliable, high performance device. All were making history, though in the acclaim of records, some may not have realized the full impact.
Collectively, these men and women proved that aviation was here to stay. It would change the history of the world in many ways. The subject of instrument flying would never have become relevant if aircraft had not achieved reliability, and flying them more than a novelty.
While the Wrights and Glenn Curtiss and Igor Sikorsky and the Granvilles and those who flew their aircraft were moving the chalks, so to speak, from novelty to practicality, two brothers and their father, the Sperrys, had been working in a Long Island laboratory. Eventually, they teamed up with another famous aviator and demonstration aircraft, on their vision of an autopilot for aircraft.
These contributions, plus the decison to then put the pilot in the active instrument flight-control loop, and not just as an observer letting the autopilot control the aircraft, would lead to published schedules for air transport departure times, and then, despite clouds, rain and even fog, getting aircraft off the ground at those published departure times.
The author offers any purchaser of the book, however and wherever purchased, an update that corrects some identification errors in the book, and completes the story of the Lindberghs' Sirius aircraft with references now available from the Smithsonian. Write firstname.lastname@example.org
The following paragraphs, in quote marks, are inserts taken verbatim from pages 204 et seq. of my flying book. These cover a challenge, to the flyability of an aircraft, from conditions encountered after it gets successfully off the ground. This insert, from the chapter entitled, "Wartime Pilot Training" is being selected in February 2009, a few days after the tragic crash of a Continental connection plane attempting an approach to Buffalo-Niagara Municipal Airport, late in the evening, with light snow and near freezing conditions on the ground: We begin near the top of page 204 of "The Triumph of Instrument Flight: A Retrospective in the Century of U.S. Aviation" ISBN 0966625137
"One event in the early training program has remained etched in my mind. It was a movie on in-flight icing, a kind of hands-off simulation. Whenever local weather precluded flight-training operations, this film would be shown in the ready room. The aircraft depicted looked like a Lockheed Lodestar and was obviously a model. It was configured with "boots," rubberized material in the leading edge of the wings, and on the leading edges of the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. Pneumatic actuators would cause these boots to expand and contract. When that Lodestar was flying through icing weather, and in the film the model jerked back and forth like a plane on a string which it probably was, the narration introduced the subjects of rime ice and clear ice. "Rime ice" should be left to build up on the leading edge of the flight surfaces (not too much of course) before actuating the "boot" to break it off mechanically. "Clear" ice was portrayed as so much of a hazard that the pilot had better think about landing somewhere as his or her first thought.
"Propeller ice was not discussed because alcohol deicing and propeller blade heaters had not been developed at the time the film had been made. Failure to invoke the practices the film narrator advocated sent the model plane into a stall, a spin, and a crash, with accompanying disaster music. The action was depicted using rudimentary movie technology even for the 30s and 40s; the aircraft was cast in a dark and gray atmosphere, and the sound track spelled impending disaster. Unrealistic as it was, I occasionally still have a nightmare which I attribute to so many showings of that training film, most of which took place in the North mat ready room at NAS Ottumwa, Iowa in the winter of 1944-45. That rather crude film (my recollection is that it was a Jam Handy film) taught me to respect ice.
Wartime Pilot Training (cont.)
"It served a useful purpose for the flying that I was going to experience. One lesson of that film's memorable teaching came back to me many years after the events that make up the core of this story. In 1957, I was a "weekend warrior" (Naval Air Reserve pilot) commanding a squadron of twin engine P2V-6M (Lockheed Neptune aircraft equipped for Petrel missile launch) aircraft at NAS Niagara Falls, New York. Neptunes had the Wright R-3350 engines.On this particular late winter weekend, the schedule called for me to renew my instrument card. The Navy had three categories of instrument flight qualification. The lowest was an entry level aviator's "restricted card." Until I received my wings, mine had been pink. After demonstrating higher proficiency, a Navy pilot was issued a "standard card," often referred to as a "white card" since these were all printed on white card stock. To those pilots demonstrating peak proficiency after many instrument flight hours, the Navy often issued a "green card."
"At Navy air stations, a "green card" would let a Navy pilot take off when the destination weather was forecast to be at absolute ceiling and visibility minimums. For example, let's use 300 feet ceiling and one quarter mile visibility as the set minimums for a given destination airfield. With a "white card" I could be cleared if the forecast was 500 feet and one half mile, a little above minimums established for that airfield. Another privilege reserved for the "green card" pilot was that he could set his own takeoff minimums. Some very well qualified instrument pilots did not live to rue the day they exercised that privilege. The reason that takeoff, in near zero visibility conditions, is most often not elected by experienced pilots, is the potential loss of an engine on takeoff and the subsequent inability to reach any airport. Weekend warrior (in my case, Naval Air Reserve) pilots and crews flew one weekend a month. Some years, particularly in the military services' gasoline budget economies of the 1950s and 1960s, we were restricted to just four hours of flying or even less in a given month. Louis Johnson, was an early Secretary of Defense who.......
The Triumph of Instrument Flight (cont)
".......defined his tenure with the term "budget cuts." One of his cuts resulted in severe gasoline restrictions for all military aircraft. Except for the airline pilots who were also doing reserve duty in our squadron, most of us were happy just to be able to maintain "white card" instrument proficiency in the Naval Air Reserve. A white card is the card I held when I found myself one forbidding Friday evening, as Bud Britton, the instrument flight check officer attached to the Niagara Falls Naval Air Station, prepared with me for take off to NAS Sanford, Florida. Though a Reservist, Bud was on active duty and was getting in a lot of flight hours. He was courageous enough to let me fly as PPC in the left seat and he flew copilot. Not far south of Lake Erie, at about 8,000 feet over western Pennsylvania, we encountered icing. Clouds always persisted along the south rims of the Great Lakes for at least half the year but our forecaster had not put icing down on the briefing.Recalling that old Lodestar movie, I asked for a higher altitude and got 12,000 feet. We were still picking up ice. The wing heaters were not working but the propeller heaters, which were working, told us what our wing lights did not completely reveal about ice on the leading edge of our wings. The propeller deicers were electric and worked "on" and "off" in cycles. Near the end of the "on" period one could hear ice breaking off the props and hitting some part of the wing or fuselage. I was taught in that early film that the moisture that formed ice on a cold aircraft had to come from a higher elevation where it was warmer. The outside air temperature at 12,000 feet was indeed warmer than it had been at 8,000 feet. Since the wing heaters were not working, I needed to go up a bit more to prevent the ice altogether. I was reluctant to ask for a higher altitude because we were not using oxygen. I discovered that if I cheated about 300- 400 feet above the 12,000-foot assigned altitude, the ice situation improved dramatically. That is what I did and Bud did not argue with me. We broke out into clear weather over Tennessee and made it down to the beautiful city of Sanford in Florida."
("Cheating" on an assigned instrument flight altitude is definitely wrong. One pilot might be cheating the "down" while
Wartime Pilot Training (cont.)
another is cheating "up" and the safety margin in altitude separation is used up.") End of inserts quoted from the book whose cover is shown at beginning of this page.